School Committee Begins Deliberations On Appointing Acting Superintendent


Parents call for the resignation and investigation of Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham at an emergency meeting of the Regional School Committee on May 15. Photo: Toni Cunningham

A report on the second emergency meeting of the Amherst School Committee which ran six hours on May 16, 2023, will be posted in the Indy late in the day on Thursday May 18.. In the mean time, look here for a reports on that meeting in MassLIve, A recording of the May 16 meeting can be viewed here.,

Close to thirty members of the public lined the walls of a room at the middle school Monday night (5/15) to bear witness to an emergency meeting of the Regional School & Union 26 committees, which was not being recorded or broadcast. 

Holding posters with slogans such as “New Leadership Now,” “Our Kids Deserve Better,” and “Who Knew What When?,” and a large hand-painted banner that read “Hold Cunningham Accountable” (referring to Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham), the observers occasionally heckled and applauded during the hour-plus meeting.

The meeting, which was called following Superintendent Michael Morris’ sudden departure on medical leave late Friday, had only one item on the agenda: to enter executive session to “conduct strategy sessions in preparation for … contract negotiations with nonunion personnel (Acting Superintendent appointment).” 

Amherst member Jennifer Shiao read prepared comments outlining why she thought it was inappropriate and unlawful to enter into executive session to discuss contract negotiations when they hadn’t yet selected an individual. Shiao made clear that it was an option but not a requirement to hold discussions behind closed doors, and advocated instead for an open session to discuss contract strategy. 

Peter Demling, Chair of the Union 26 committee disagreed. “My primary concern is exposure and liability of the district,” Demling said. 

After more than an hour of discussion, with both Margaret Stancer of Pelham and Ben Herrington of Amherst both expressing support for open discussions in an effort to build trust with the community, the Regional Committee voted 5-4 against moving into executive session. Joining Shiao was Herrington and Irv Rhodes of Amherst, Stancer, and Stephen Sullivan of Shutesbury. Those that voted in favor of the closed door meeting were Demling, Allison McDonald of Amherst, Sarahbess Kenney of Pelham, and new member Tilman Wolf of Leverett. 

A motion by Shiao to continue in open session to discuss contract strategy was met with resistance, purportedly because the discussion had been publicly posted as an executive session. Shiao withdrew the motion and the meeting adjourned. The committees will met again on Tuesday May 16 and will meet again on Thursday May 18 at 7:30 p.m. with a possible vote to appoint an Acting Superintendent to happen in open session.

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